This Day In History: ‘Doc Holliday” Dies in Colorado (1887)

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On this day, Doc Holliday one of the most famous personalities in the Old West passed away. Holliday was a gunfighter, gambler and even worked as a dentist. He died after a long struggle with tuberculosis. –gunslinger, gambler, and occasional dentist–dies from tuberculosis.

Holliday was best known for his role in the famous gunfight at the OK Corral he came from a wealthy background. He was born to a wealthy family in Georgia and the young Doc was something of a gentleman. His real name was John Henry Holliday and he was given a traditional southern upbringing. The young John went to college and studied dentistry and for a while, he was actually a successful dentist in Atlanta and he treated many of the city’s leading citizens.  His nickname ‘Doc’ was given to him after he graduated as a dentist. However, he soon contracted tuberculosis and he was forced to leave Atlanta and moved to Texas for the sale of his health. Here he set up another practice and soon began to flourish. Then he became interested in cards and soon he was more often to be seen in the local saloons playing cards than working as a dentist.  Holliday became a notorious gambler and with this style of life went alcohol and fighting. In 1875 he was arrested in Texas for his role in a shootout. He had to leave Texas and he wandered to Denver then a lawless frontier town. Here he made his living as a gambler. Soon he had to leave Denver and he went to other booming western towns such as Dodge City and even went as far north as Deadwood, in South Dakota. His lifestyle was slowly killing him as alcohol and smoky bar rooms exacerbated his tuberculosis. There was no real treatment for the disease in the nineteenth century.  Holliday did not let this stop him and he became friendly with Wyatt Earp. They became good friends after Holliday had saved Earp’s life during a fight with some cowboys.

Wyatt_and_Doc
A bronze statue of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday

For his part, Holliday was a loyal friend to Earp, and followed him to Tombstone. Holliday stood with the Earps at the shootout at the O.K. Corral in 1881 and the bloody feud that followed the fight.

Holiday had once again to get out of town in a hurry when his role in the OK Corral was investigated. Once again he drifted from town to town gambling. He did this for five years but in 1887 his health gave out and he was taken seriously ill. Holliday ended up in a sanitarium in Colarado and here he died at the young age of thirty-six.

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  • Gary Ashley

    Deadwood is in South Dakota not Montana

    • Ed

      Thanks